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Malcolm Wicks MP, Minister of State for Energy
New Connault Rooms, Holborn, 06 February 2007
Malcolm Wicks' opening address
Luke. Thank you very much for that. I hadn’t expected such a vast audience. I’ve never seen so many researchers in search of research funding for a very long time. It does show that this programme is really a very important and extensive one. I think the context for me is that, where as perhaps in the past we could think of science and research as being in a particular box rather than an important but never the less a peripheral part of our economy and society, I think there is a sense in which science and research are now moving centre stage in our kind of European societies and that’s in part because of industrial restructuring.
Certainly in Britain we have undergone a period of what you might call de-industrialisation. Certainly fewer people are employed in the great manufacturing industries. Fewer are employed in coal mining and steel and ship yards. More people are employed in extensive range of service sectors. And I think that one of the buzz words, of course, is globalisation. We are aware that we cannot compete on price alone in terms of producing many of the goods which are more cheaply produced in China, India and other emerging economies and, therefore, our economies will prosper or not depending on how good we are at coming up with ideas, coming up with new science, new technologies and particularly how good we are at technology transfer and innovation. I think for all these reasons, when we talk about a knowledge economy, we are talking about a science based and technology based economy and I think for me it sets the Framework for this 7th Framework programme.
Now, as Luke has implied, many of you here are familiar with this programme, this Framework Programme, and as such today’s conference is not about outlining the practical arrangements for FP7 but more about emphasising what’s new as well as about promoting the opportunities that are now offered, hence our choice of our strap line: “Global challenges and global opportunities”. We will hear much of what throughout the day from our very distinguish list of speakers. This morning, we focus on Britain, on the UK context and hear first hand about the academic and industrial perspective. I thank our speakers Bill Wakeham, the Vice Chancellor of the University of Southampton and Mike Carr, the Director Research and Venturing BT for agreeing to talk here today. In the afternoon, the focus shifts more to an international and global context and I am delighted that both the Commissioner for Science and Research, from the European Union, Janez Potocnik, is here and already with us, I am pleased to see him, we’ve had a particularly useful meeting already, is the Russian Minister for Science and Education, Andrey Fursenko. We are particularly pleased to see you Sir here in London again as you are familiar with London.
Today will also provide an opportunity for all of us to discuss specific questions and issues with National Contact Points who will be available throughout lunch and at the end of the day. I am advised they are easily identifiable by the red stripe on their name badges. I suppose they are only really easily identifiable by what is a very big red stripe but as they all extrovert personalities and will make themselves easily identifiable as it says here.
Now if I can dwell on the implications for the United Kingdom. I think we would argue that the United Kingdom is now a truly modern global economy and, therefore, in a good position to take advantage of the opportunities that are now presented by this programme. Innovation has contributed to our success in both manufacturing and services. We have open and free markets, and we are global players.
We plan to stay competitive through innovation. Innovation that is demand-led and where government intervention is evidence-based and carefully implemented.
We use the Research and Development Scoreboard and Value Added Scoreboard produced by DTI to dig down into the reasons why, for a predominantly service sector economy such as ours, simple R&D measures are not sufficient for our innovation policy mix. We work closely with the private sector to further develop and refine our policy implementation.
The business led Technology Strategy Board is about increasing the opportunities for business to exploit science and technology through collaborative research and development and our Knowledge Transfer Networks.
In July, the board will become an Executive Non Departmental Public Body, improving its ability, we believe, to operate with flexibility.
Innovation Platforms are being developed by the Board to bring business and Government together to generate more innovative solutions to major policy and societal challenges. Platforms on network security and also on intelligent transport systems are underway. The evidence so far indicates that Innovation Platforms are hitting the right buttons. We are exploring the potential for new Platforms in three rather different areas: assisted living, low environmental impact buildings, and environmentally friendly transport.
Also R&D Tax Credits are the biggest single funding mechanism for business R&D provided by Government and help companies to invest more in research and development and are worth £600m a year to British business.
We are also working across government to ensure that Public Sector Procurement, the money that the government at different levels spends itself on goods and services, can stimulate innovative solutions and when you consider government spending is some £125 billion per year, you can see the potential power of the procurement exercise.
Now turning to the wider European Union, this year marks the 25th anniversary of the launch of the Framework Programme. From a small beginning, the Programme has grown into one of the largest and most ambitious research programmes in the world. I believe that research is a success story for Europe, and we should be proud to say so.
I particularly welcome the greater industrial focus in FP7. For example, I know that many UK businesses have been involved in the European Technology Platforms that have helped to define the research priorities. A major challenge during this year of 2007 will be the launch of the first Joint Technology Initiatives funded by FP7 and industry. Again, many UK companies are involved and have told me how important these Initiatives are.
The launch of the European Research Council also offers unprecedented opportunities for researchers here in Great Britain. The ERC is an excellence driven model of research funding, similar to the Research Councils here in Britain. In the UK, this approach has underpinned our world leading position in many fields, and I am confident that it will deliver the same benefits across Europe.
The Framework Programme is an important strand of the Lisbon strategy and its associated goal of spending 3% of European GDP on research and development. But it is not the only strand - indeed each Member State must play its part. The UK, for example, has its domestic ten year framework for science and innovation. Our aim is to raise research investments to 2.5% of GDP by 2014. This framework underpins the UK Government’s commitment to creating the best environment for research and innovation.
Now I believe that the European Union must have a forward-looking agenda. It must address tomorrow’s challenges, such as in climate change, energy security, and space science. All of these challenges share some common characteristics. They are trans-national and no single country can go it alone. And, in all cases, research and technological development are vital if we are to succeed.
These challenges are integral to the future well-being of our European economy. There can, no longer, be policy silos in Europe. Far sighted as Harold Wilson was in 1967 when he called for a separate European Technological Community to complement the then EEC, we now recognise that innovation and economic prosperity go hand in hand; they are interdependent.
Our Heads of Government recognised the scale of the challenges ahead for Europe and the resources required to address them when they decided to significantly raise the level of Community resources invested in research and development – a 75% increase between 2006 and 2013.
At the same time, the globalisation of knowledge is increasing international competition for the best researchers and research investments. Europe needs to compete with emerging research-intensive economies and it needs to collaborate with these economies to address global issues. So, I very much welcome the more outwardly-focussed European Research Area and look forward to a renewed debate on this subject as promised later this year by the Commissioner. I hope that he will be able to tell us more about this this afternoon.
Let me take a specific example. The aim of the FP7, the Energy Thematic, is worth €2.3 billion, and its aim is to transform the current fossil-fuel based energy system into a more sustainable one, based on a diverse portfolio of energy sources and carriers, combined with enhanced energy efficiency, to address the pressing challenges of security supply and climate change, while also increasing the competitiveness of Europe’s energy industries. Consortia in this theme are encouraged to look for partners in countries with significant energy needs, such as China and India, so as to increase R,D & D capacity in these countries. The EU near Zero Emissions Coal project, that the UK introduced in our Presidency, is featured in the first call of FP7 and is an excellent example of Europe and China working together to mitigate climate change through new technologies.
As I am sure all of you are aware, the UK has long been a key player in the Framework Programme. In fact, our researchers have a remarkable record. In FP5, UK organisations received nearly 16% of the overall funding. This equates to just over €2 billion.
The data currently available for FP6 suggest that, despite spanning a period of EU enlargement of course, UK organisations still accounted for an impressive 14.5% of the total. By the middle of last year, the UK had already secured over €1.7 billion from FP6. We are involved in more projects than any other country.
These strong statistics are due in no small way to the exceptional performance of British academics. In FP6, it received 8.5% of all funding, accounting for 23% of funding that went to academic participants. Even more remarkable is the fact that UK academics took more funding than academics from Germany and France combined.
We should be proud of these achievements, but we shouldn’t be complacent of course and I certainly hope that all types of UK organisations will strive to maintain and improve this level of performance and continue to be a major driving force in FP7. I know that achieving these levels of participation has taken considerable effort on the part of UK researchers.
Getting involved in the Framework Programme is not, I know this, a straightforward undertaking. Unfortunately, the programme does have a reputation for being bureaucratic and each programme brings with it a host of new challenges, as well as increased competition for funding.
A little later you will be hearing how the European Commission is proposing to make life easier in FP7. However, the nature of the programme means it will never be effortless. The government has therefore put in place a support service to help participants through this process. Again you will be hearing more about this in the next presentation and, as I mentioned at the start, you will have the opportunity to meet some of the UK’s FP7 National Contact Points later today.
So thank you for this opportunity to address you at what I think is the start of an important day in terms of European and UK research. As I said, this is no peripheral issue, this is absolutely central to our ambition to become a leading knowledge economy and a knowledge economy has to have a strong research base in both business and in academic quarters. I am certainly confident that we have that strong base and I wish you well for an important day.
[opening address ends]
Malcolm Wicks' closing address:
Minister, Commissioner, Ladies and Gentlemen. I have just two minutes of closing remarks.
First of all, Luke, I would like to thank you for acting as our disc jockey - or science and technology jockey. You chaired the meeting very ably and we are grateful. I’d also like to thank all the organisers; my colleagues at DTI, for doing so well today.
I think we have had a fascinating final session. It’s always important that politicians - Commissioner and Minister - are cross-examined and it’s particularly enjoyable for me, as a Minister, not being cross-examined today and hearing how my colleagues did it.
Andrey Fursenko reminded us, of course, of Russia’s great strength in terms of science, engineering and technology. We won’t compete about league positions. I boasted about Britain’s great place in terms of science. I’m not sure if Russia are the Arsenal or Manchester United of science. I suppose they have to be the Chelsea at the moment. But certainly competing for a pretty high spot at the moment. So thank you very much.
The Minister reminded us of the crucial connection between today’s discussion on research and innovation and issues about international competitiveness and that was a theme throughout the day.
I think the Minister was struck and we were struck by the fact that Russia’s priority areas are very, very similar to the ones we are seeing across the European Union and certainly here in the United Kingdom.
Minster, we are very grateful that you were able to come to London today to share your thoughts and, indeed, your experience and wisdom with us.
Janez Potocnik, the Commissioner, also talked about innovation and research in the context of our, European Union’s, response to globalisation. We followed with great interest what he had to say about the European Research Area, JTI’s, European Institute of Technology. And also the need, and I think this is an important theme, for wider international cooperation which this Framework Programme can bring and which I think is going to be an even more important part of this Framework in the future. So Commissioner, thank you very much indeed.
I should just say to my British colleagues that these are good messages for us here in the United Kingdom. We meet at a time when over recent years the budget for science has more than doubled in the United Kingdom and I think when you ally that to other sources of funding for the private sector itself, but obviously today from the European Union, it’s a good time to be doing science and innovation. I think that’s worth noting.
I struck, Commissioner, by the fact that you said that this term “knowledge economy”, which we tend to use rather glibly in speeches, can appear to be an abstract term to a wider public and I think that my final thought would be that, if there is some unfinished business in Europe - and certainly I think that it’s unfinished business here in Great Britain, it’s our need to work harder to explain science to a wider public.
The knowledge economy does mean that science becomes centre stage. Economic progress depends on the appliance of science; it depends on innovation. It’s not only central to Europe’s strength economically, but actually many of the issues facing us in our societies - national security, terrorism, climate change, energy security. The exciting fact that we are in touching distance, because of bioscience, of tackling some of the most debilitating medical conditions affecting our people, means that it’s an important time for science. But we have got to work harder at engaging the public so they understand its central place economically and they also are better able to debate some of the issues about science which has an ethical dimension which will be so important to our democracies.
Minister, Commissioner, Luke, thank you all very much. I think it’s been a good day.
Thank you for coming.
[closing address ends]